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Rita Lee

Chinese Calligraphy Artist

Rita Lee at work is a thing of beauty — the way she glides an ink-soaked calligraphy brush across the paper is mesmerising. To the layman, it looks as if she’s perfected the fine art, but she hesitates to use the word “perfect”.

“My first calligraphy teacher told me, ‘No one can write an absolutely perfect word in the world, no one can perform with absolute perfection, so just try to relax and focus,’” she says. “She also taught me to be reflective while writing. You have to think about how to write better, how to adjust to have greater movement.”

Lee started calligraphy as a six-year- old, in primary school where her teacher inspired and influenced her. “My teacher was so nice and so patient, I remember she didn’t request us to practice a lot, she just told us let it flow naturally. As I grew up, I found that her teaching method influenced me a lot. Slowly but surely, I started to fall in love with calligraphy.”

After graduating from Hong Kong Shue Yan University, having majored in mass communication and journalism, Lee worked in PR (“I really didn’t like the job”) and did calligraphy part-time. Now, she says with glee, she does what she loves full-time. “I quit without planning ahead. So it was a struggle at first. I was teaching calligraphy and I had to be brave to give up everything in the PR industry; I had to give up my network, title, a stable income — but it’s been so worth it.”

Lee has just finished a video shoot relating to Hong Kong’s luxury-brand culture for a major client, and she’s got plans for The Year of the Earth Pig (2019). “New Year product design has been really fun,” she says. “I really enjoy working on this project, as I can share the happiness with those who receive the fai chun and my designed Chinese New Year cards.”

For inspiration, she isn’t just looking at the East; her visits to European museums have affected her as much as Oriental scrolls and canvases. “I found it really inspiring when I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam,” she says. “It gave me a chance to reflect on how I perform calligraphy, as I learned about his brush strokes, his impasto (where oil paint is laid thickly on the canvas so that the texture of the brush or palette knife strokes is clearly visible). It’s really important to widen my horizon, not just in the field of calligraphy.”

Will the art form die out in Hong Kong if the new generation doesn’t adopt it? “Yes, if people think that calligraphy is really old-school and reject it, if they fail to appreciate it, it will die out,” she says. But, with a reassuring smile, she continues: “I’m working on how to balance the modern and the traditional. Like repackage and refresh the image. The best part of each day for me is the interaction I have with young students. I’m like their friend more than their tutor, it’s not like I’m a strict mentor in a traditional way. I hope to be a relaxed and calming influence — just like my teacher was.”

 

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